August 7, 2019

ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Ephesians 2:13-22 + Matthew 10:40-42 + August 7, 2019 + Churchwide Assembly + Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Video Link

If you’ve ever wondered if the Bible is relevant or helpful in our particular, historic moment, that the Word continues to speak as law and gospel, today’s readings should answer that question once and for all. Or if you’re been considering becoming a Biblical literalist, today is a good day to start.  But quit by tomorrow, because who knows what is coming. Seriously, these verses: we might as well write these verses out on banners and carry them into the center of town.  They’re even tweetable.

Peace to those far off and those near by.

Christ has torn down the wall of separation. #NoMoreHostility

You are no longer strangers and aliens,but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

And then Matthew 10!  Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.

One cup of water [arrow] mighty streams justice.

We hardly need a sermon.  But since we’re here….and they gave me this fantastic outfit.

In Matthew, Chapter 10, Jesus has given the twelve authority to cast out demons, to heal the sick, to bear God’s redemptive power in their bodies.  This is the first time Jesus’ followers practice being church, the sent ones, translating the message of Jesus into their own words to be understood in new contexts. Jesus warms them, however, that they will be sent like lambs among wolves into a world that will not understand; that will attempt to silence them and marginalize their message.  Yet, he also promises that along the way, there will be spaces of hospitality, places of welcome.  There will be those who already sense something about God’s mission deep within them. The disciples can trust that the reign of God has already gone ahead of them.  Perhaps Jesus knows that it will be in those spaces, those outposts, even along the walls that divide, that more powerful ways of speaking, new contextualizations of this gospel, that carry the reward of grace to new generations, will be born.

To welcome, or to be welcomed is always to enter a disconcerting space of encounter, of vulnerability where there is risk of being challenged or changed, to be asked to leave something behind of the original words for the sake a new creation.  We quite literally die and rise at these boundaries.

 Several years ago, after the summer Bible School closing.  Two little girls came up to me sheepishly, both of them giggling, and asked, “Are you out or in?”

In a split second, my mind raced.  What are they asking me?  Do they want to know if I’m out of the closet??  Was there some secret group in VBS group that had evaded me? Or were they asking me about my embeddedness IN some kind of system? Were they asking me about the patriarchy, or noticing my privilege, my access to the economic, cultural, theological, or political systems that that create categories that are define some as IN and others as OUT?

After that split second, the little girl’s friend elbowed her, “NO, innie our outie?”

She wanted to know about my belly button!

There is no doubt that we are so often alien and stranger to one another.  We don’t understand one another’s language, even if we speak the same language. We look at one another across the border, or across the Thanksgiving table, and we recognize that we hardly understand one another’s worlds.  Increasingly we live in bubbles, sometimes imposed but most often by our own choice.  We love the security of like-mindedness and we derive pleasure in saying to one another, “Who ARE those people?”

Paul doesn’t say to the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus, “Y’all just sit at different tables.  He sends them across the dividing wall.  When we’re sent to the border lands, the ways we name ourselves–the way we check the boxes–or craft the labels—comes up for critical review.  I can’t help but think that this church in particular is being sent to the dividing wall of race.  Called by the gospel to whiteness, not as simply a descriptor or a liturgical color, as cable through which white supremacy flows, charging our church and electrocuting our nation.  We’re also being sent to the borderlands of gender, where the dividing wall of male and female, this long-accepted binary is no longer adequate to the beautiful, creative and mysterious bodies and souls that we’ve been given by God.  represented than our binary of male and female has taught us to see.  We are being sent to the mountain of TRANSfiguration.

I suspect our faithfulness as a church turns around the ways in which we can be curious and generous, open and compassionate, de-centered enough to draw near to one another, breathing with the peace of Christ, our cup of cool baptismal water, our peace, our cornerstone, rather than hyperventilate with the hostility of the world that assaults us every day in America. Baptized in Christ, fear is washed away, leaving behind the celebration of God’s miraculous goodness.

In 2009, I was at the churchwide assembly with my gentle, courageous and beautiful husband, Darin, and many of you, sitting just outside the dividing wall, called the visitor section When it came time to announce the vote on policy change, Bishop Hanson urged the assembly to receive the news in silence, recognizing that many had deep fears and hopes bound up in this announcement.  As they screen showed the green slightly taller than the red, we followed the bishop’s instructions, and we simply breathed together, some in tears, some relieved, some in shock, some leaving the assembly too distraught to move to the next item of business. It was right for us to sit together at that moment.

But the tenth anniversary I remember most won’t come until next summer.  A year after the vote, Reconciling Works, gathered in Minneapolis, the same city as the churchwide assembly the year before.  We formed a procession across the street from the Convention Center and marched to the hall where the vote had taken place.  Every letter of the acronym was on fabulous display.

We entered the hall and stood in the middle of the room. Someone prayed, and then another said, “Now.”  And that body of Christ broke the fearful silence with shouts and cheers.  We whooped and danced around in circles.  We cried and hugged one another.  We shouted like we were the authors of Psalm 150. Yet, it was not lost on us, that this grand celebration, this outpouring of Spirit, this delight embedded deep in our flesh, this baptismal echo, was still behind closed doors.

We cannot be the church that celebrates the welcome of Christ behind closed doors. To welcome as Christ welcomes comes when we can cheer one another’s presence in body of Christ, even despite our theological and political differences.

What we witness in this lifegiving welcome is a welcome beyond any we can even give on our own, the one who sends us, marking life with the sign of the cross, an entire cosmos redeemed and made into one.  In Christ, the dividing wall HAS been broken down: God and flesh bound together, divine light and the earth beneath our feet connected through this cruciform love. Underneath every division, every hostility and fear, is something deeper, more true, more compelling: God’s very life. Wisdom. Love. Grace.

I’m not exactly sure how we will write that in our churches, or synods, or ministries, or from the 11thfloor of Higgins Road, but I’m clear we have to say it out loud.  The grace and love of God, incarnated in Jesus Christ and in this church, is what can heal our divisions and this creation. It’s what we are called to say out loud.  To write on banners.  To serve in cups of water. To build int our foundations, the dwelling place of God.

The question is still a good one:  Are you in or out?